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Record funding boost for Southern Lakes mental wellbeing initiatives

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A record $91,500 will be injected into communities across the Southern Lakes region over the next few months to support initiatives that improve mental wellbeing, social connection and resilience.

Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group has funded 110 groups in its penultimate Connecting Communities funding round, with each receiving up to $1,000 to help facilitate community-led activities.  

Recipients included international community cooking workshops at Queenstown’s Happiness House; shared equipment for Manapouri Community Pool; carer get-togethers in Queenstown and Cromwell; youth-led weekly Pickleball sessions for youth and parents at Wānaka's new Paetara Aspiring Central; ‘Make it MINT’ upcycling workshops for individuals with disabilities by MINT Trust and Wānaka Community Workshop; Fiordland Multicultural Community Holi (Colour) Party in Te Anau;  Milford’s Got Talent and Milford Movie Nights; ‘Netwalking’ run by the Queenstown Business Chamber; a Queenstown Lakes Clued Up Kids programme; volunteer welfare resources for St John’s Central Otago Major Incident Support Team; and a range of community Christmas activities.  A full list is available online.

Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group Chair Adell Cox said the response and calibre of applications were “simply outstanding”.

“Applications increased nearly 40 percent – up from a record number last time – which shows how motivated our communities are to improve their wellbeing. We’re loving seeing groups join forces on initiatives and smaller places like Milford Sound coming up with community-wide ideas to bring everyone together. We’ve done our best to fund as many groups as possible to get their activities underway.”

First-time applicant the Women’s Shed Queenstown, established in August, is already connecting with other applicants to put the skills of its membership to good use in the community.  

“We’re strong mental health advocates and are keen to provide a safe, inclusive environment to empower women not only to learn how to confidently use tools but to connect socially, make new friends and have fun,” says founder and tutor Alex van Dam.

“Our membership is skyrocketing and the women involved are feeling really good about volunteering their time and new skills to help local community organisations and the wider community. We currently have 60 women of all ages and ethnicities learning how to use a range of tools.  In our ‘Intro to Tools’ workshop they’re learning to building birdhouses while in ‘Intro to Carpentry’, the next level up, they’re onto building furniture.  

“We’re partnering with the Community Harvest Gardens to build them an outdoor community pantry and then we’re planning to build cabins or a tiny home so that we can auction them off and donate the profits to a mental health charity,” she says.

Applications from Fiordland and Cromwell were particularly strong in this round, with recipients receiving funding for a range of new ideas as well as building on existing successful initiatives.  One of these was formalising a Fiordland Community Choir after the Fiordland Performing Arts Club successfully piloted group singing time at its monthly get-togethers.

“Everyone’s really looking forward to it,” says organiser Sandra Harry. “The choir will meet weekly and everyone’s welcome - there will be no audition process.

“We know how good singing is for wellbeing and believe that this will really benefit our community.  Singing lowers stress and anxiety levels, and by learning a new skill, improving and being part of a group, it boosts people’s confidence, self-esteem and energy. It’s also a great mindfulness activity – the amount of concentration needed means you switch off from distractions and just enjoy the moment.”

Another new initiative funded was Cromwell Community House hosting and co-facilitating ‘Working Well’ Tradies Breakfasts.

“Our aim is to bring small groups of businesses together over breakfast to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and fitness in a group setting which is less confronting than one-to-one. We’ll also share the Five Ways to Wellbeing and how these can be applied in construction and trade settings,” says Cromwell Community House Manager Karen Palmer.

Te Hau Toka introduced the Connecting Communities fund in November 2021 as part of its efforts to combat the ongoing mental health impacts of COVID-19.  Since then, there have been 7 funding rounds, 439 recipients and over $410,000 injected across Queenstown, Wānaka, Cromwell, and Fiordland to help people improve mental wellbeing, social connection and resilience in their own communities.

With the COVID-related Government funding coming to a close, the final Connecting Communities funding round is set for 8 to 18 April 2024. Eligible not-for-profit groups can apply for up to $1,000 including GST to support community-focused mental wellbeing initiatives. 

For more details, visit